The issue of marijuana always has two sides– whether it should be legalized or not. Although in some countries it has been legalized already, others are still thinking about it. It has also been known that marijuana has benefits and is even used for medical purposes. Those people who use this also make the excuse that it’s better to use marijuana than other drugs.
But now, marijuana will be used to treat opioid addiction. The reason behind is that it does not cause physical dependency or contribute to drug overdose deaths. At the same time, it has fewer harmful side effects than other medications. So, the question is, would this really be effective or otherwise? Well, this is something that we all have to find out soon.
If you believe that medication-assisted treatment (MAT) for opioid use disorder (OUD) is wrong because it’s “just substituting one drug for another,” then you’re really not going to like this article. It’s not about one of the three major forms of MAT approved for opioid addiction: buprenorphine, methadone, or naltrexone. It’s about another medication, which does not cause a physical dependency, nor does it contribute to the 175 drug overdose deaths that take place each day in the United States. It has fewer harmful side effects than most other medications, and has even been correlated with a reduction in opioid overdose rates. Nonetheless, it is more controversial than MAT and, in most states, less accessible. In fact, Pennsylvania is the only state that has approved its use for OUD—and only as of May 17, 2018. In New Jersey, it was recently approved to treat chronic pain due to opioid use disorder.
The medication I’m describing is, of course, marijuana.
Abstinence-based thinking has dominated the recovery discussion for quite some time. Since Alcoholics Anonymous began in the 1930s, the general public has associated addiction recovery with a discontinuation of all euphoric substances. Historically, that thinking has also extended to medication-assisted treatment, even though MAT is specifically designed not to produce a euphoric high when used as prescribed by people with an already existing opioid tolerance. The bias against MAT is finally beginning to lift; there is now even a 12-step fellowship for people using medications like methadone or buprenorphine. But marijuana, which is definitely capable of producing euphoria, is still under fire as an addiction treatment.
In addition to the ingrained abstinence-only rule, another reason that most states don’t approve the use of marijuana for OUD is that there is little to no research backing its efficacy. Even in Pennsylvania, the recent addition of OUD to the list of conditions treatable by marijuana is temporary. Depending in part on the results of research performed by several universities throughout the state, OUD could lose its medical marijuana status in the future. And other states that have tried to add it have failed, including Maine, Vermont, New Hampshire, and New Mexico. It’s not that any research has shown marijuana doesn’t work for OUD. There simply has not been much—if any—full-scale research completed that says it does.
But street wisdom tells a different story. Jessica Gelay, the policy manager for the Drug Policy Alliance’s New Mexico office, has been fighting to get OUD added as a medical marijuana qualifying condition in New Mexico since 2016. Although she recognizes that research on the topic is far from robust, she believes cannabis has a real potential to help minimize opioid use and the dangers associated with it.
“Medical cannabis can not only help people get rest [when they’re in withdrawal],” says Gelay, “it can also help reduce nausea, get an appetite, reduce anxiety and cravings…it helps people reduce the craving voice. It helps people gain perspective.” I can relate to Gelay’s sentiment, because that’s exactly what marijuana does for me…